How Leadership Influences Student Learning

5 Ways Leadership Makes You Smarter

It shouldn’t surprise us, when we look at how leadership influences student learning, that we find a correlation between leadership and high academic performance.  Some people just seem to have it all, and we might simply say that over-achievers will be over-achievers.  But what are the specifics behind how leadership influences student learning?  What does leadership do for students that pushes them into higher gear?  Let’s take a closer look at how leadership influences student learning and find out how you can unleash the leader and scholar within!

1. The Time-less Factor

“Wait a minute,” you might interrupt.  “Leaders get good grades?  How do they even have time to study?  Aren’t they too busy?  Aren’t they too stressed out?”  These are good questions, and the answer, it turns out, is simple.  What doesn’t kill you makes you smarter.  The first way to understand how leadership influences student learning is to look at what leadership roles force you to do.  All of a sudden, your time is no longer your own.  This leaves leaders facing a “survival of the fittest” scenario.  They can either get wise with the time they have left, or let everything begin to pile up, overwhelm them, and eventually they fail.  Most decide to get wise, and they become very disciplined with how they use their time.  This has huge consequences for how leadership influences student learning.  Even though they have much less free time, some leaders spend even more hours per week on homework and studying than non-leaders, simply because they’ve made a regular habit of it.

2. Apply Within Anywhere

Most scholars and theorists of how education works agree on one thing: we learn best when what we’re learning is relevant.  We’re not going to try to argue that your leadership role is going to help you unlock the most profound mysteries of your chemistry class.  But nevertheless, most of the time, leadership roles give you the chance to apply knowledge you’ve learned and make it relevant to your life, thus strengthening your retention, or you’re memory of what you’ve learned.  So, as unlikely as it may seem, it’s possible that your chemistry class is helping you boost your critical thinking, you’re going to have a lot of opportunities as a student leader to keep on flexing that particular mental muscle.

But the list goes on.  Between the letter-writing, the phone calls, the pitches to other students, the creative ways you’re building excitement, the addresses to rooms full of people, and the Herculean effort of pulling things together at the last minute, time after time, to stage the ultimate campus event—between all this, you’ll have many opportunities to problem-solve, to improve your communication, to analyze situations, to measure ideas, and in general, to think on your feet.

3.  It Cuts Both Ways

If you’re studying business, communication, or even English or philosophy, and you want to get a sense of how leadership influences student learning, you can start with the direct experience you’re exposed to as a leader of putting theory into practice, but this is only to name a few disciplines.  Still, it’s not just a one-directional movement—it works the other way around, too.  What do we mean?  Another way to understand how leadership influences student learning is to see how you can apply leadership experience to the classroom.  Just as you can apply the material you’re studying to your work with other people, you can also connect what you’ve learned about working with people to the material you’re studying in a course.  The ability to integrate real-world experience with your academic career makes your immersion into the material much richer and more meaningful than for somebody without the same breadth of exposure.

4.  It’s Because You’re a Leader, Not a Nerd

Another way to appreciate how leadership influences student learning is to look at how leaders behave in class.  Comfortable with large groups, accustomed to speaking in public, unafraid of asking questions, the leader in the room might stick out like a sore thumb in a classroom full of non-leaders.  As a leader, you have the confidence it takes to be an engaged student.  You’ll feel right at home participating in class, helping out your classmates, engaging them in discussion, and, we’ll say it, being what grade school kids call a teacher’s pet.  But hey, no shame!  We’ve seen already how you’re going to be ahead of the game in terms of how your leadership role is making you a better learner.  There’s no need to hide what comes natural to a pro like yourself.

5.  The Juggling Act

Finally, even though it’s sometimes frustrating, being a student leader teaches you tackle projects in a completely different way than others might.  Since you have had, or continue to have, a position in your organization that gives you a bird’s eye view of its operations, you can appreciate how projects are put together.  You have experience coming up with ideas, turning the ideas into goals, then breaking the goals down into smaller, more manageable parts, delegating those to others, and following up.  This not only gives you a big picture perspective, but helps you appreciate the small stuff as well, the various little particulars that go into completing a plan.  This is why the grunt work of college doesn’t wear you down.  You can manage juggling your homework and assignments from all your courses at once because, quite simply, you have a project management background.  You can envision how it’s going to go from beginning to end, whether it’s a paper, a group presentation, or what have you, and this is an enviable place to be when it comes to college.

So don’t buy into the myth that if you’re a leader, you’ll have no time for your schoolwork.  We can’t promise that leadership won’t cut into your time on Facebook, but now, knowing how leadership influences student learning, you’ll agree that it can help your college career the best that it can be.

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